A man from Oldsmar, Florida, was viciously attacked by a 12-foot alligator in Lake Thonotosassa, and was left without the right side of his skull

Firefighter and paramedic Juan Carlos “JC” La Verde, 34, was filming a video while swimming inside the lake, all in the name of promoting his adventure race company DefeatX. As explained in a harrowing description of the ordeal on JC’s website, the triathlete forgot his swim goggles that day, but decided to trek on and swim in the lake to get a few drone shots.

As a videographer named Matt filmed him with the drone, JC began to swim without goggles and a swim cap, which prevented him from seeing the 12-foot alligator heading his way. Videos show the exact moment the two collided, which the adventurer says felt like “running into [a] telephone pole, but now it had teeth.”

JC now describes how his “entire head and upper chest” were inside the alligator’s mouth, and when it bit down, he heard a “loud popping sound.” Undettered, he grabbed the gator’s upper and lower jaw and began to fight back. He explains, “She chomped down again and I felt teeth pierce my skull.” At that point, they began to spin around, and he put his hands into the gator’s mouth — he says, “Right then I knew, don’t ask me how but I knew I was gonna get this thing off of me.”

Finally, the alligator miraculously let go, and the 34-year-old successfully pulled himself out of the water and onto a platform. At that point, the adrenaline wore off, causing “unbearable” pain, and JC realized the “pop” he heard had led to a broken jaw. 

The former U.S. Air Force pararescueman told ABC Action News that the alligator was truly “huge,” and that he “immediately tried to open its jaws because [he] knew [he] was in a gator.” He says, “I knew that I either turned it or it turned me, but it was confused just as I was confused, and then it just let go.”

Even more jaw-dropping? While the alligator attack left JC with extensive damage to his skull and face, including a brain puncture, he was able to walk up the shore to a home in order to get help. At that point, he made sure to go back to Matt so he knew he was alive, walking back down the water in “indescribable” pain, making it feel like “a marathon.”

Losing blood rapidly, JC got to Matt, who bandaged him with his first aid kit. Matt now describes: “I knew something was wrong, but I had no idea how bad it was… That’s when I saw the towel around his head and how badly he was bleeding… The most important thing with any trauma is to staunch the bleeding, so I grabbed the biggest bandage I had and gave it to JC.”

Finally, the victim was taken in an ambulance to Tampa General Hospital, and went into a 6-hour surgery. As per a GoFundMe page set up to help him and his wife Christine, the surgery was in order “to repair and reconstruct the damage to his skull and jaw.”

Apart from the GoFundMe, the family has all set up a DefeatX t-shirt sale to help JC’s “road to recovery.” 100% of proceeds will go to him and his family.

JC’s wife Christine posted a Facebook video of him in his hospital bed, where he says he is “excited” to leave the hospital, and reminds everyone to “be the best version of yourself at all times.” While JC’s jaw is noticeably wired shut, Christine captioned the video with, “We are back at home and trying to figure out our new norm. He is truly resilient and God has a plan for him.”

Talking about how the attack changed him, JC explains, “It’s been said that we make plans and God laughs. But I don’t think I ever fully understood that quote until now.” He continued, “Sometimes in life, our plans change. And when they do, we just have to swim harder than we’ve ever swum before.”